Father’s Day is just around the corner. My father passed away on Father’s Day in 2003. He’s been gone these 15 years. Funny, seems like yesterday when I got word of his passing.
I have often said I am one of those fortunate sons who can say my father was the best man I have ever known. They just didn’t come any better than Frank T. McCall. I could write a book about him, and some day I just might.
He was the oldest of nine children born to D. T. and Amy Manning McCall. And all his life he commanded (not to be confused with “demanded”) the respect of his younger brothers and sisters. Everyone liked to be around my dad.
He was unassuming; almost bashful, and a man of few words – and “honest as the day is long.”
My dad loved the land. Farming was his life. He especially loved growing tobacco. He approached each new crop with the same determination and enthusiasm. It was art to him. He carefully studied the nuances of the cultivation of the soil and all of nature’s complexities that related to each crop. He was constantly refining his craft, and he knew what he was doing. In all the years he farmed, he never had a crop failure.
Frank T. McCall never met an internal combustion engine he didn’t like. He had “the knack” for anything mechanical. I thought it bordered on genius. If an engine went bad, he was undaunted. He would tear down an engine in a heartbeat.
In thinking of my dad and his farming years, I find him and an “A” Model John Deere tractor almost inseparable. Somewhere in the early life of the tractor he removed the electrical starter. To start the tractor, he either “rolled it off” or started it by hand.
He knew that tractor like the back of his hand. And he could back a four-wheeled hay wagon anywhere he decided to, even down the narrow hallway of a tobacco barn. It was no small feat.
In the life of that old John Deere, my dad overhauled the engine twice. He literally knew it inside and out. I can see him now, perched high in the tractor seat as that old John Deere rolled along, spittin’ and hissin’.
My mother, my brothers, my sister and I always helped in getting the tobacco crop out. But once the growing was underway, my dad took over. In the early years, he plowed behind an old black horse named “Old Charlie.” In later years, he used his trusty Super “A” Farmall. We were called in to help with topping and sucking and cutting and hauling, but for the most part, my dad enjoyed being alone. He spent a lot of time alone with his crops.
My dad insisted, “oil is the life of an engine.” And when he was working with machinery, he always carried a gun – a grease gun. Every piece of equipment on his farm was well-oiled and got an extra shot or two of grease. He had big, strong mechanic’s hands, with black under his fingernails.
I recall with fondness; if the sermon got slow in church on Sunday, he would take out his pocket knife and clean the black dirt out from under each of his fingernails.
My dad’s clothes always smelled of diesel. My mother explained that is why he was never bothered by chiggers, ticks or three-leaf poison oak.
He wore long underwear nine months out of the year. He started wearing them in September and didn’t switch to boxers until late May.
He carried a big, four-blade pocket knife. One blade he kept “sharp as a briar” and he used it for castration only. But his favorite little tool was a small pair of Xcelite pliers that would fit in the palm of your hand. He called them his “nippers.” In most situations, he preferred those pliers over his pocket knife.
Although he never said so, I think being elected to serve as a deacon in his church was one of my father’s crowning achievements in his life. He had a simple testimony and he lived it every day.
Shortly after my father’s death; I was, one day, thinking of him and prayerfully considering the bountiful blessings our family has enjoyed. Our father referred to it as “our many blessings” when he prayed in public. Over many years, our family members, for the most part, have been strangers to hospital corridors. We are, indeed, a family blessed.
As I pondered all of this, deep within my spirit came the answer, “Your father was a praying man.” And I realized many of those times my father was alone with his crops, he was also alone with his God.
And to this very day, we continue to reap the benefits of his life – and his prayers.